Thursday, September 20, 2012

John Gregg's Folksy Ads Are Not Working

As I worked all day on a federal court brief, other bloggers began to weigh in on Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg's latest ad, a spot with "rain" being poured on an umbrella he is holding to symbolize his allegation that his opponent, Mike Pence, wants to cut into the Rainy Day Fund.

Some challenged the ad's veracity while others questioned whether the folksy approach in Gregg's ads is working.  Given my brain is fried from a full day of work (got that brief filed by midnight...thank you federal court electronic filing), I'll concentrate on the easy one - whether the ads are working.  They are not.

When I saw Gregg's first folksy ad (by my count he is up to four such ads now), I thought it was a mistimed attempt at humor and that he would move on to more serious commercials.  Weeks later I am still waiting for that first serious ad.  I don't begrudge Gregg trying to make viewers laugh while selling his political message.  I think humor is an overlooked tool for a candidate to use when hitting an opponent with a negative spot, while hoping to avoid the backlash that inevitably comes with such an attack.

The trouble is John Gregg never introduced himself to the voters. While many politicos at the Statehouse know Gregg as the former Democratic Speaker and like him, the average person has no idea who he is.  Then their first introduction to him through the folksy ads leaves voters with the impression that he is a country bumpkin who perhaps is not terribly smart.  Of course, that is not accurate.  John Gregg is a very smart and successful politician and attorney.  But the ads don't tell people that.  Voters want to support someone for Governor who is smarter and more successful than they are.  Gregg has yet to show that he is.

John Gregg should have introduced himself to Indiana voters as a serious candidate, someone with the intellect and ideas necessary to be a successful Governor.  Then along the way he could have dabbled in some humor to take the sting off negative attacks against his opponent. (Though appearing as the narrator in a negative ad against an opponent as Gregg does in these spots is at best a questionable strategy.)  But folksy, and not terribly clever or funny, ads certainly should not have been the medium by which he introduced himself to Indiana voters.

I would add one other thing.  The ads could be interpreted in a far different way than Gregg intends.  One could look at those ads and say Gregg is representing Hoosiers as simple, backwards folks.  Insulting people from Indiana is not a way to get their vote.  While I don't believe for a second that is what he intends, that is the way a lot of Hoosiers are going to view the ads.

I don't normally say an election is over with six weeks, an eternity in the political world, left to go.  But for Gregg to succeed, he would to dramatically change his strategy, completely redefine himself, define his opponent, and then sell the voters on his vision...all in six weeks on a shoe string budget. I don't see how will be able to do that.

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